I’m sure you’ve heard the news. After making an aggressive promise in 2008 that 100 percent of its cups would be reusable or recyclable by 2015, Starbucks—still nowhere close to hitting that number—has officially admitted it needs help. Your help. And it's willing to pay.

The colossal coffee company has partnered with investment company Closed Loop Partners to create a $10 million grant challenge. The NextGen Cup Challenge is a call to innovative entrepreneurs "working on ideas that could lead to the development of more sustainable cup solutions."

It’s about time. Every year, more than four billion single-use cups are sipped by those of us needing a caffeine fix. And one million trees are cut down to provide the paper. But that’s not the worst of it. The cups Starbucks currently use are only partially (10 percent) recyclable (if you live in Seattle, San Francisco, New York or D.C.) because it’s made with cardboard that is coated with a thin layer of 100 percent oil-based polyethylene plastic. Yum.

The disposable coffee cup is anything but. I will now refer to it as the single-use cup. The single-use cup is an environmental disaster. It takes about 20 years for this type of cup to decompose. About 600 billion polyethylene-lined single-use cups are distributed globally each year, and Starbucks accounts for about 6 billion of them.

In all fairness, Starbucks is just one of the companies that have been feeling increasing pressure over the issue from environmental groups such as Stand.earth, creator of the hashtag #Bettercups and a forum dedicated solely to complaints about unsustainable cup design. Dunkin' Donuts announced it will get rid of foam cups by 2020. Those cups will be replaced by recyclable paper cups, according to the company. McDonald's also said earlier this year that it would eliminate foam cups and replace them with renewable or recyclable materials in all packaging by 2025, an initiative that is explored in an article on sustainable packaging you can read here.

And for all the young designers out there not creating that eco-friendly cup there’s always the BrandPackaging Rising Design Star contest. I can’t offer you $10 million dollars but you could be featured in the June issue.


Hurry! Deadline is April 14.

Happy Earth Month!